Ohio and Kentucky police departments have snagged $80 million worth of military equipment, everything from grenade launchers to body armor to M16 rifles, through the federal program that allows local law enforcement agencies to get surplus equipment from the Pentagon, says the Cincinnati Enquirer. The program has come under new scrutiny after police in Ferguson, Mo., responded to civil unrest clad in body armor and camouflage, driving armored vehicles, and carrying assault rifles. It has also sparked a national debate about the “militarization” of local police. Backers of the Pentagon program say the equipment is vital for strapped local agencies that need to be prepared for dicey situations, including possible terrorist attacks.
Critics say local law enforcement officials now look more like they’re prepared for combat in Iraq than for patrolling local communities. “One of the most alarming trends we’ve seen has been the militarization of American policing,” said Tim Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute. He said paramilitary units – like SWAT teams – were initially only in big cities, but now they’re in small towns across America. And they are not just being used for extraordinary situations, as they were in the beginning. Nowadays, they are called out for routine policing.”